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Woman Of Influence - Jaya Asthana

Ranjani Saigal
11/06/2014

With twenty years of experience in providing clinical social work services to individuals, families and groups, she serves as a counselor for many in the community. She has provided a wide range of services to clients with a variety of mental disorders including depression, thought and mood disorders, personality disorders, substance abuse, homelessness, domestic violence, physical and sexual abuse. She worked in the inpatient Psychiatric Unit, of Harvard's Massachusetts General Hospital, Bournewood Health Systems, Brookline, MA and the Elizabeth General Medical Center, N.J. Currently she works with Care Alternatives, a Hospice Company, providing counseling and care for terminally ill patients across the state. She is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker, LICSW, Member of ACSW and Member of NASW

Jaya Asthana has demonstrated exceptional dedication to public service over the past three decades and has significant experience with social issues particularly dealing with next generation children. She brings into her Seva work a pluralistic and diverse perspective, subject-matter expertise, and most critically, her deeply-held conviction in the positive and proactive role the mothers can play in promoting an appreciation for Hindu values and traditions within our community and in the larger American society. She has been a leading force behind the VHPA community programs such as Hindu Heritage Day, Bal Vihars, Youth Conferences, Temple Relations, Relief Efforts and Family Camps. In the course of these activities she has served in various capacities as a teacher, organizer, administrator, counselor, guide and mentor.

She has seeded and shaped the VHPA Bal Vihars that have been running successfully for over 35 years in the North East.     Jayaji has been a pioneer in organizing and evolving the VHPA's Youth and Family Camps for the past 24 years in NJ and MA. Through these weeklong camps, that enable youngsters to reinforce their religious and cultural values with their friends, she has worked tirelessly to bring Hindu samskaras, heritage and culture to the younger generation. Over the past thirty years thousands of youth have participated in these camps  

She is married to Dr. Abhaya Asthana and has three children and two grandchildren.

 
 Can you tell us a little about your work? 

I have been trained as a psychiatric social worker. Most of my work has been with people who are mentally disturbed, families in distress, people having difficulty in their personal lives, people suffering from mental illness, substance abuse, etc. My most recent work is with Hospice. I work with people who are at the end of their lives, who are dying either due to old age or a terminal illness, and their families who are dealing with this fact.

What motivated you to get into social work? 

When I was home with my children when they were young, I noticed that my friends and acquaintances would seek me out when they had a problem, and would discuss their personal issues with me. People said I was easy to talk to. So when I started thinking about a career, it was natural that I thought about working with people as a profession.   

What excites you most about your work? 

The fact that I can make a small difference in people’s lives makes it all worthwhile.

What is the greatest challenge in Hospice care? 

When people have had a lot of conflicts in their lives, at the end of life it is very painful for them to leave them unresolved as they leave this world. Those that have had less conflicts find it easier. Peace is the greatest need at that time. For many families of South Asian heritage, it is so hard to allow the person to not eat at the end of life. The family wants to feed. 

Social work can be very hard as you are dealing with people with great issues. How do manage to do the work and not let it drain you? 

When I put my pen down at the end of the day, I also put away the problems that I have been listening to all day. I am done with work for the day.  The drive home and the music in my car helps me unwind and shake the cobwebs from my mind. I know I have to free myself so that I can help my family. 

What lasting impact do you expect your work to have on the world? 

I am not big enough to have an impact on the world. But through my work, I hope to be able to bring some solace to people, one person at a time. 

What advice do you have for women who may chose to follow in your footsteps? 

If you want to make money, or you have difficulty separating yourself from your work, this field is not for you. You have to be able to walk the tightrope between your personal life and your work, and recognize the distinction between them. 
 
You and your husband are very busy and yet you give much time for community work. What motivates you give time to community work? 

Our community if very important to us. We need all the help we can to keep our culture alive for the next generation. That is what keeps us going.

What is the secret to your maintaining a work -life balance ? 

Smile, laugh, and have fun in all you do. Enjoy your food, and eat with your hands. Don’t be afraid to be silly. Laughter keeps you young and your heart fit.

You have raised three very successful children. What is your approach to parenting?

That is difficult to put into words. We have been lucky to have three wonderful children who were not very demanding. We took many trips with them when they were young. We had family dinners together, and did puja and aarti together every day. Maybe that made a difference.

What activities outside of work are you involved in?

I love my work with children, Bal Vihar, youth camps, teaching children our samskaaras, our history and about our ancestors early in life is very important if you want them to grow into confident adults who are proud of who they are.  I also work within the VHPA Massachusetts chapter.

Why is it do important to teach children our samskaars? 

Unlike being in India, when children go to college and then into the workforce they are identified as Indian. It is a time when they are questioned about their identity and not knowing about their identify is very discomforting to them. In general I have found that children with a strong sense of their identity and their heritage do very well in life. The challenge in the US is that many adults who grew up in India also know very little about our heritage. I would encourage the parents also to learn so they can teach their children..

What impact has VHPA and Bal Vihars had in the US?

Hindu way of life seems more accepted. People do not question you when you wear a Bindi or a saree. Children are going up comfortable being Hindu. Many are organizing Bhajans and Poojas in colleges. Diwali is being celebrated at the White House and even Rudram was chanted. All this has been a great outcome of efforts of VHPA and other allied organizations. VHPA has grew leaps and bounds since its inception.

What do you do for fun?  

I like to sing, though I am not very good at it. Antakshari is one of my favorite games. Traveling is also fun, though I will have to wait till I retire to do much of that.
 
Who are the people who you admire?

Through my association with VHPA, I have seen many people who silently keep doing what they need to do, without any expectations. No work is too small or menial for them. They are the true unsung heroes and heroines.

Could you describe the influence of any women mentors ?

When I am my mother’s age, I wish to be at least half as active as she is. Close to 90 years, she still does the cooking, the laundry, still wants to go shopping, and still sings while doing the work.

Could you describe the influence of male mentors?

My father showed me the value of hard work and how to live within your means. My father-in-law taught me that you can do anything you set your mind to.

What kind of support have you valued most from your husband? 

He is always there for me.

What support from you has your husband valued the most? 

I asked him that once. He said, “Complete trust, commitment and caring. Cheerful nature.” 

What is you personal philosophy of living life?

Be thankful for what you have. Look for the simple pleasures in life.

What was your happiest moment in life? 

When my children and grandchildren were born, when they give me hugs and kisses. 

When there were low points in your life  what advice did you value the most to pull through

The best advice I ever got was “never let the sun go down on your anger.” Don’t know that I am always able to follow that, but I think it is really good if one can do that.

 Do you have a fitness routine that you would like to share? 

Sad to say, I don’t. Lately I have been trying to go for a walk most days. Some days I am successful in doing that. I try to do some yoga and pranayam every morning.

 Do you have a spiritual routine that you would like to share? 

Spend at least 5 minutes a day with yourself. Morning puja is the most important routine in my life. It keeps me mentally fit.

Do you have a beauty routine that you would like to share?

I don’t have an external beauty routine. Just let your inner beauty shine through. 

Do you have favorite book or author?

I like to read about Ramayan, and good commentaries on our Dharma Granth(s). Amar Chitra Katha books are also good. Most good fiction books are fine. 

Do you have a favorite song/ musician?

I love Kishore Kumar songs. Especially “Paanch rupaiya bara anna” and “Ek chatur naar karke singaar.”

 Do you like to cook? What is your favorite dish to make?

My mother says I make very good khichadi. But seriously, cooking is not my forte. My favorite dish is what other people cook. Vegetarian of course.

 Can you share a fun fact about you ?

I like to dance with my two left feet.
 
Any words of wisdom?

 Don’t let the daily family dinner fall by the wayside. Arrange the children’s schedule so that you can eat with them. That is the most important gift you can give to your children. Self discipline your life, make time for the important things in your life. Appreciate the rainbows in your life.





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1.Great find Lokvani and an honor November 7, 2014Jeyanthi 

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